Cisco-5G-traffic-2021-200Why bother to offload when your LTE is fast and unlimited? Growth rates seven years ago approached 100% as people first got iPhones. They are much lower now. Verizon last year saw about a 45% growth in data per customer, confirming a trend to lower growth in traffic. Cisco (and I) have been predicting this fall for the last three years because smartphones are now nearly ubiquitous. AT&T and others have been telling Wall Street that customers with smartphones were only increasing usage by about 40%. (Trends worldwide are similar but details deserve another article. Some charts below and at Cisco)

Technology in wireless is moving so rapidly that telcos could increase capacity 8-10X in the next few years without raising capex. They may not because they won't be able to sell so much data. Cisco projects a 7X increase in demand in five years, less than the potential capacity increase. 

Logically, this extra capacity would be used to win customers, which is why TMO, Sprint, and now Verizon went "unlimited." (Quotes around "unlimited" because after 22-28 gigabytes you will be slowed when the network is congested.)

Cisco's remarkable VNI predicts telco traffic growth in the U.S. will slow to 33% in 2021. Video is the prime factor in wireless traffic and growth in mobile video usage is slowing. In addition, people have learned to do most of their video watching when connected to Wi-Fi to avoid being charged. Cisco's prediction is that offload to Wi-Fi will increase from 60% today to 63%. 

That perfectly reasonable projection may be out of date, as Verizon joins Sprint and T-Mobile with "unlimited" plans. Early data from Sprint is that offload went down when plans went unlimited. LTE is now over 10 megabits in most of the U.S., plenty to watch HD video. Wi-Fi speeds vary from room to room and as you walk around. Why bother switching when LTE is doing the job and bandwidth costs are nil?

Arielle Sumits of Cisco is wondering about this as well. The data is just coming in and Arielle sees possible countervailing trends. They haven't changed the forecast yet but are following closely. 

Other wireless traffic insights for 2021

Speeds will go up 200% to 20 Mbps. That's enough for at least three HDTV streams and loads of surfing, Facebook, and even Youtube. (My opinion) As we are seeing at Verizon, T-Mobile Netherlands, Finland, and all three in Korea, caps are already going up rapidly. In much of the developed world, the effective cap will be over 100 gigabytes and sometimes much higher.

"5G" will be only 1.5% of traffic in 2021. That's the almost invisible little green area on the top right of the picture. Projecting five years on technology that hasn't even reached field trials yet is challenging. Cisco's estimate seems right to me. No telco anywhere has publicly set a goal of more than 1% for 2020. Few have announced aggressive plans after that. NTT CTO Seizu Onoe is typical, not expecting much mmWave before 2022-2024. The hype cycle is so extreme most people are surprised at how little 5G mmWave is likely any time soon, but most of the people building networks see a modest build -1-3% - until 2013.

Almost all will be 4G. 4G is 3-10X as efficient as 3G as well as faster. From Jio in India China Mobile to Verizon in the U.S., carriers are doing everything they can to move customers to 4G. Cisco predicts it will be 79% of traffic in 2021. It may be higher.

Smartphones will be responsible for 48% of all fixed and mobile traffic by 2021. Telco wireless will be about 20% of traffic. Add the "smartphone to Wi-Fi" and almost half of all traffic will be to smartphones. Sumits sees this as an astounding trend considering how prominently PC traffic has always figured in IP traffic. In 2011, PCs generated 94 percent of total IP traffic. In 2021, PCs will be less than 30 percent.

There is far more data. Skip the summary at top and dig right into the data.  

Table 4.       Global Mobile Data Traffic, 2016–2021

 

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

CAGR 2016–2021

By Application Category (TB per Month)

Web, data, and VoIP

2,153,676

2,938,884

3,779,988

4,674,801

5,538,615

6,434,681

24%

Video

4,375,000

7,225,123

11,415,329

17,564,661

26,067,686

38,148,326

54%

Audio streaming

559,999

843,394

1,193,711

1,620,662

2,103,876

2,674,183

37%

File sharing

151,874

258,617

403,273

592,352

820,954

1,102,867

49%

By Device Type (TB per Month)

Nonsmartphones

109,505

137,852

169,955

199,173

236,257

269,189

20%

Smartphones

5,887,078

9,328,403

14,076,023

20,710,278

29,484,004

42,017,358

48%

Tablets and PCs

1,085,059

1,514,749

2,040,640

2,681,672

3,457,800

4,439,720

33%

M2M

157,998

284,415

505,292

861,025

1,409,949

2,224,543

70%

Other portable devices

910

599

391

328

432

659

-6%

By Region (TB per Month)

North America

1,411,021

2,000,301

2,776,564

3,753,177

4,838,494

6,397,092

35%

Western Europe

736,377

1,084,396

1,534,120

2,167,831

3,019,843

4,189,615

42%

Asia Pacific

3,109,117

4,900,007

7,434,743

11,048,030

15,911,056

22,845,908

49%

Latin America

449,944

688,890

1,023,408

1,475,498

2,078,670

2,898,651

45%

Central and Eastern Europe

923,803

1,396,079

2,013,989

2,836,076

3,886,561

5,252,334

42%

Middle East and Africa

610,286

1,196,346

2,009,476

3,171,864

4,853,817

7,367,869

65%

Total (TB per Month)

Total Mobile Data Traffic

7,240,550

11,266,018

16,792,300

24,452,476

34,588,442

48,951,469

47%

 

Table 3.       Global and Regional Projected Average Mobile Network Connection Speeds (in Mbps)

 

2016

2016

2017

2018

2019

2021

CAGR 2016–2021

Global

Global speed: All handsets

6.8

8.7

11.1

14.3

17.7

20.4

24%

Global speed: Smartphones

12.1

13.5

14.9

16.2

18.1

20.3

11%

Global speed: Tablets

19.1

22.6

24.5

26.2

27.2

27.8

8%

By Region

Asia Pacific

9.8

10.6

12.9

16.0

18.8

20.4

16%

Latin America

3.8

4.9

6.4

7.9

10.0

12.4

27%

North America

13.7

16.3

17.6

19.8

22.8

25.2

13%

Western Europe

11.4

16.0

18.6

21.6

25.7

28.5

20%

Central and Eastern Europe

6.3

10.1

12.3

13.6

16.2

18.4

24%

Middle East and Africa

3.8

4.4

5.3

6.8

8.5

10.8

23%

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